Politics and A New Home

“Surely, you can’t be serious, Father!” Brioth’s hazel eyes must have been the size of plates, she was certain. She looked to her two sisters for support. Karai, the middle daughter of the family, looked torn while their youngest sister, Gachille, just looked lost and a little frightened. Karai was the next to speak.

“An arranged marriage, Daddy? But you always promised…” their father heaved a sigh, looking just as unhappy with it as they were.

“It’s the only way, Karai, you know I wouldn’t ask this of any of you if it weren’t necessary. Two countries want our kingdom. Aredron’s king has offered to help us, we’ve already made the alliance. Now, two of you are at marrying age and it seems the king’s son is eager for a wife. To deny his proposal would be…detrimental at best. You three know what hangs in the balance. Karai, you yourself helped me read over the contracts, the war threats, and the multitude of reports. Heavens,” he added with a grin, “You just might know more about running this country than I do!”
“Daddy, she’s never even met him! How does he know he wants her?” Karai’s bright green eyes darted between their father and Brioth. She loved them both dearly, and she appreciated her father’s compliment, but it was no secret that Brioth and he did not get along. Because of that Karai was one of the very few who knew. Brioth had long since been secretly engaged; it was just a matter of time until she told their father or simply left to marry the man. Something of this magnitude would tear her sister apart from the inside out.

For a while longer the four argued, but most felt nothing could be done. With a deep breath Karai looked around. She studied her father with his dark hair and ice blue eyes. She wondered, when had all of that gray gotten into his hair and beard? Brioth sat in the large chair in front of their father’s desk playing with Gachille’s brown-blonde hair. Brioth’s eyes were downcast at the head resting against her knee. The dark green eyes locked behind Gachille’s eyes were clear in Karai’s mind as she made her decision.
“If this gets done, we won’t have this problem again will we, the next time we make an alliance?” Karai’s eyes narrowed a bit at the look of shock on her father’s face. He honestly didn’t think about that?

“Of course not,” he replied with a tired smile, “the three of you would lead the revolt against me if I mess up like this again.” At that Karai and Brioth shared a small smile. They both knew he meant their mother when he said revolt. She was furious with him as it was now.
Karai crossed the spacious study to a small couch with a fur blanket folded on it. She picked it up, unfolded it and gently placed it on their sleeping sister’s shoulders. “I’ll do it then.” Brioth’s head shot up so quickly they all heard the crack. Their father’s affectionate smile instantly melted into shock.


“Shh, you’ll wake her. You both heard me. I’ll take Brioth’s place. If they ask why you’re giving the middle child instead of your eldest, tell the truth. I volunteered. There’s no dishonor in that, and hopefully it will make a good impression. Though, their customs are so different I really wouldn’t know.” She finally made eye contact with them both, each briefly before looking at the small fire in the old stone hearth. This, she decided, was how it had to be. She had never even had a suitor, and at 17 she should have had several in the past two years. Well, she chuckled in her mind, I suppose my stubborn antics have at least made this easier.

“Karai, I don’t…”

“Don’t, Brioth. You know why I’m doing this.” At Karai’s wink and soft smile Brioth’s eyes opened even wider. Now she truly was speechless. “Besides, if I stay around here I’ll end up an old maid.” Her giggle masked her upset well. “I’m afraid the husband market is a bit stale around here anyway. As much as I love children, I don’t want to just take care of them, you both know I’d like one of my own at some point or another. Speaking of kids, Daddy why don’t we get Gachille to bed? Would you mind carrying her, I hate to wake her.”

And so their lives continued, day in and day out for several months. The plans were made and the news broken to their people. Each day her father would ask her if she was sure and each day she would laugh and say yes. Finally the day came for her to leave. It was heartbreaking, at best. They all boarded into a carriage for the week long journey to Aredron. They traveled across the rolling grassy fields and hills of their lands, quietly watching as the landscape morphed before their eyes. From the hills came mountains, from the fields, plateaus. Waterfalls and forests filled the edge of the trail’s view and grew more common the longer they traveled. Karai had to admit, their lands were far more beautiful than her own. The land she could definitely get used to.

With good weather on their side they arrived a day early. Karai had never seen such a sight. Most of their castle was made of dark woods with stone and fabric accents. In some older areas here were things like rice paper windows and doors. Their capitol was a bit rural as their country was one of farmers and fabric makers.

The Aredron kingdom’s capitol was far larger than hers and filled with a wider variety of vendors. There were all sorts of amazing things in their markets; things she had never fathomed existed. Despite all that it was easily the castle that had her most astounded. It was a massive gray and white stone structure that reached into the sky, shielding even the mountains from view. There were large arched windows and immense arched doorways with rich, dark redwood doors and silver door levers. The gates to enter were well away from the castle and made of finely polished silver. For a moment or two Karai briefly wondered why the gates were so far from the castle itself. Once she entered her question was answered. The grounds were surrounded by grand gardens filled with every kind of plant Karai had ever seen and some she hadn’t. There were ponds and small waterfalls here and there. Clearly they had come at the right time of the year. The entire garden was in full bloom. Karai was in awe. It wasn’t her home, but she could definitely live here!

Introductions were brief seeing as only the king, Daredon, and the queen, Kareena, were at home. He and her father exchanged very friendly greetings with hugs and laughter as did her mother and the beautiful other queen. Kareena exuded a mother’s warmth and Karai was immediately drawn to trust the woman.

Her smile held wisdom, her laughter, warmth, and she had all the grace of a well raised and educated woman. Kareena and her mother exchanged a few words laughing lightly and passing devious looks and winks. Karai thought she would get along well with this woman. Her long, dark brown hair flowed in gentle waves just until her mid back, setting her dark blue eyes apart. She wore a dress that rather surprised Karai though. Its neck was wide and deep, almost heart shaped, exposing much of her shoulders and a portion of her cleavage. The sleeves were a sheer material that flowed loosely around her slender arms with a v cut out from the length where an inside seam should be. While it was very flattering Karai knew the woman would meet some very discouraging comments had they been in her home country. Though, the more she thought about it, Aredron’s women seemed to wear fewer layers and be less conservative…

Daredon obviously was a happy and healthy man. He had a regal stance, one that both demanded respect and showed his obviously well earned build. He wore dark brown riding pants with a crème and gold vest and undershirt. His short black hair seemed naturally unruly and Karai already felt that must suit him well. She suddenly thought of the stories her mother used to tell of “taming” her father. His brown eyes were friendly and mirthful, quickly conveying his emotions. Yes, this family seems very nice. For a moment she mentally winced. Now I just have to hope they like me.
The day continued on very well. Both the king and queen seemed to like her well enough and each offered to give her tours of certain areas. Before long though the talk turned to business and the girls were free to explore as they pleased. Brioth and Gachille decided to investigate the castle’s layout while Karai felt some fresh air would do her some good.


Ocean blue eyes swept over the valley below him, taking in all the splendor of his city. He raised an apple to his mouth for a bite, barely hearing the man rambling beside him. He caught the punch line of the joke and simply rolled his eyes with a grin. When would the poor man learn a good story from a bad one?

Briefly his eyes wandered off to his left looking just beyond the vines providing his shade. That brief look was enough to cause a double take, sending his unruly blue-black hair cascading into his eyes. He brushed it away without a thought as his smirk widened. His hand holding the apple hit his friend on the shoulder to get his attention then pointed to the object of interest. The resulting whistle was no shock. Hell, he’d be lying if he didn’t agree. Weird looking girl though.

She had long , bright blonde hair pinned up in a bun on her head with some hair ornament. Her bright green eyes and red painted lips offset each other, not that she needed it. Those were some unique features in this country. The longer he looked at her dress the more he realized she must be foreign. The high v neck, the multiple layers, the well covered arms and legs, all of it screamed foreigner.
With a last bite of his apple he tossed the rest over his shoulder at his friend and stood to approach her. “Reiof, what are you doing?”

“What’s it look like?” he whispered back at his sitting friend. With that he strutted out from behind the ivy trellis and walked up behind the young woman. She was sniffing a large white flower and holding a strand of loose hair behind her ear.

“Smells great, huh?” Karai instantly spun around in surprise. She had thought she was alone in the back gardens. The balcony had both a great garden spanning down below and on it with an amazing view from up above the castle walls. Her eyes met some of the bluest eyes she had ever seen and she wondered how he got the blue into his hair. Then she noticed his smirk and became a little irritated. He had obviously meant to surprise her and was pleased to have succeeded.

“Yes,” she quietly replied, “I enjoy it.” She had to withhold her own smirk as she saw his falter. Well, obviously he wasn’t expecting that. She quickly decided that if he wanted a conversation with her he was going to have to make the effort, because for now she wouldn’t humor him.

“Do they have those where you’re from? I know they’re rare around here.”

“No, I’ve never seen it before at least. And just where do you think I’m from?” At this he laughed and crossed his arms. The man was certainly not shy, she could tell that much plainly. His smile was friendly though. Almost familiar, somehow…

“Honestly? Not a clue. Chetsges, maybe?” The playful raise of his eyebrow confirmed it for her. Warning, there was a flirt on the loose.

Not again. With a mental sigh and a small smile she shook her head. “Sorry, guess again.”

“What, no hints? That’s not very nice.”

“Neither is sneaking up on guests.”

“Touché.” With that he began to circle her, one hand on his chin, the other on his hip. His stare was lingering on her and she was quite certain he wasn’t just looking for clues to her nationality. The strange thing is she, for once, wasn’t offended by it, simply flustered. His loose, short tunic was a dark blue gray and he wore fine crème pants with black boots. She took the moment to file that information; it meant he was upper-class. Those colors were harder to get a hold of. Barely holding off a giggle she decided to throw him off base. This was becoming fun.

“So how do you do that?” He stopped circling her to stare like a cat dunked in water. Then she did laugh. “Change your hair color, I mean. I’m sure the blue isn’t natural and I’ve seen several people with …unique colors.”

“Oh, that? There are some springs around here with water that doesn’t smell very good, but if you get certain clays or plant mixtures to mix with it on your hair it changes the color.

“Mine started out black, as you can tell, but some people use a type of water to make their hair almost white before they dye it. Then it’s just the pure dye and no natural color. The kicker is, there are people who help others change their hair for extra money.” At her skeptical look he decided to elaborate. “Think about it, if you mix the wrong clays or plants with the wrong water your hair could just…fall out. Not a good thing to mess up on.”

Her sudden peal of laughter surprised him a bit. He’d seen it happen; he didn’t think it was all that funny. “What?”

“I just pictured you bald, that’s all.” At her wicked grin he gave a shocked chuckle. So, the girly had a mean streak? Interesting.

“That’s okay, I pictured you….never mind, I don’t feel like getting slapped this early in the day.” Instantly she gasped and turned a rather interesting shade of red. He couldn’t help but laugh, her scandalized look was priceless. Finally, he’d really rattled the girl. “Relax, I’m kidding. You think I’d admit that out loud? …That came out wrong.”

The girl seemed to calm down rather quickly. When she looked around and signaled that he should follow her he was obviously quite curious. After all, if she hadn’t screamed at him that was a good thing, right?

They walked silently down the white marble steps to the second level of the garden on the larger balcony. She serenely walked to the fountain and waited for him to follow, merely clasping her hands gently in front of her. She motioned for him to sit on the edge of the fountain and waited for him to comply. Now his curiosity was piqued. A slow smile spread across her lips and he raised an eyebrow.
“I’m going to do you a favor, ok?” With his nod she sat down, turned to the right and faced him with her left arm between them and her right somewhere behind her. “Ready? Close your eyes.” Because he complied he missed the truly wicked look that crossed her face. However, the sudden dousing in water had him standing and sputtering. “There. Your favor is that I respected your wish not to be slapped in the morning. Good day, sir, ” and with that she gracefully strode away from him and up the stairs with a happy little smile.

Reiof just stood there watching and dripping water for a moment before what happened really sunk in. His friend’s head poked over the first balcony’s railing and he asked him what happened. Reiof tried to find words but at the moment all he could do was laugh. He honestly hoped that girl would be around for a while. Maybe she could make things interesting here!


Karai stood in an expansive room covered in white and purple fabrics. She wore an exquisite white gown that was very form fitting at the top but flowed like the silk it was from her hips down. The box cut neck was much more open than she would have liked but she rather liked the v shaped detail of the sleeves that pointed to her middle finger. There were all kinds of white flowers in her hair and embroidered into the bodice of her gown. Around her were her mother, queen Kareena some servant women, and a rather interesting woman named Miranai who was her very-soon-to-be sister-in-law.

The man from a few days ago wasn’t lying, it was apparently quite possible to leave no traces of one’s original hair color, for this girl had blue-green hair with golden strands here and there. And not a blonde sort of gold, either; the color actually sparkled like gold, though Karai had no idea how. Miranai was much fonder of pants and vests than any skirt or dress and also was very head-strong. She had no problem showing skin and enjoyed watching men squirm from intimidation or anything else, for that matter. Despite the drastic difference in their modesty levels they got along very well and Karai was finding herself more and more at ease here. Now, if only she had any idea what she was getting into. She still hadn’t met her future husband or brother in law.

“Sweetheart?” Kareena’s voice pulled Karai from her quiet reverie. “It’s almost time. Oh, you look so beautiful. We’re going to have to stop the jealousy from corrupting this thing you know. The women will want to be you and the men will wish they were at the alter today!” Karai laughed at that; she would gladly trade with one of those women. She hugged her poor mother who was crying like a baby then hugged and thanked both Kareena and Miranai. With that she was alone again. The other women left to find their places, especially with Miranai as a bridesmaid. Kareena’s niece was the flower girl and needed to be put into place before both mothers found their spots.

“Miss Karai, it’s time.” As the servant summoned her she summoned her courage and took a steadying breath. I can do this. This family is wonderful, it’s okay.

Only the soft click of her shoes could be heard as she walked down the grand, empty halls. Her green eyes stay locked on the windows to her right and the thunder storm that raged outside. Normally she would go and shut the shutters as she passed, but the weather suited her today. She wanted the rain, the thunder, the light, the wind. It had been almost six months now. Karai walked along thinking back to her wedding. She was shocked to find out the man she’d flirted with was the best man…and her new brother in law. Oh, the irony. His name, she learned, was Reiof. Luckily, he hadn’t felt the need to tell Oron, her husband, about their little encounter on the balcony.
Thank the powers that be. If someone were to tell him she didn’t want to know what he’d do. To say he was possessive was an understatement. His temper was impressive and at times frightened her. Over all, she got stuck with the royal actor. He acted almost affectionate in public, but without others around…it was like he had split personalities and she truly did wonder if he was mentally instable. She no longer became angry when he stayed out drinking. She merely went to sleep somewhere else so he could bring his…friends…home without her having to see. It had become apparent within the first week of marriage that she would be inadequate for him, no matter what the task was. 'Enough.'

With that Karai made up her mind. She was wasting energy worrying over things that would be whether she liked them or not. She stopped at the double doors that led out to the garden balconies and slid her shoes off to hide them behind a vase. 'I haven’t done this since I was a child. I’ll have to tell Gachille about it, she’ll be sad she missed it.'

With a hard tug at the door it swung open creakily, allowing her access to one of her favorite places in the world. The rain was chilly but the wind was warm and the air humid still. She walked out along the balcony in a simple blue summer dress with her hair down, not having felt this free in ages. She felt like running, singing, doing something spontaneous. She quickly glided down to the second level and stood in front of the fountain, watching the city below with its people scuttling here and there.

Without a conscious thought or effort she began to sing. It was an old tune from her homeland, one about a girl who died on a voyage. The melody was sweet but haunting and suited her voice perfectly. Yes, this was what she needed.

Reiof awoke to something cold on his face and a loud clap of thunder. Why didn’t I wake up sooner? It’s practically a hurricane out here and I slept through it. Bet Mum’ll be pleased. He slowly forced himself to sit up and duck under the cover of the upper balcony after a particularly close bolt of lightning.

The loud creak of the balcony door grabbed his attention. Not many people would come out into a garden in a downpour. For a few moments it was silent and he thought the person was just checking to see nothing had blown over. Then he saw the feet quickly dashing down the steps and the bottom of a summer dress. Nope, someone was definitely out there with him.

The second he saw blonde hair he winced. He wasn’t a fool. He knew his brother wasn’t treating the woman very well and he felt bad for her. Not that he felt guilty for still being attracted to her. No, that had nothing to do with it, naturally. He watched her stop next to the fountain and just stare at the landscape. He figured she didn’t need to know he was there. Every time they were alone together it was just awkward, even now, so why spoil her moment? Her voice drifted to him over the riotous thunder and pattering of the rain. It was beautiful, but something in it tore at him. She sounded so miserable.

She continued the song in some foreign tongue, presumably her own, and curled up against the fountain. Karai looked lost, almost broken. At that thought his mind nearly stopped. Broken? Karai? Somehow he couldn’t reconcile the image before him with the interesting young woman he’d met six months ago.

Quietly he stood and walked over to her. When she noticed him their eyes met, but they said nothing. He sat down beside her, just enjoying her company for a while before he turned to look at her again. “Let’s get out of here.” Her head tilted quizzically, making him think of a drenched kitten. He let a chuckle escape him and stood, holding his hand out to her. “C’mon. I think we could both use a little time away from this place, don’t’ you?” Hesitantly she took his hand and smiled.

Laughter filled the air as Reiof helped Karai off of his horse. It seemed she had never been allowed to drink before, because three drinks had her footing a bit unstable. They slowly stumbled toward one of the stable entrances laughing and supporting one another. Reiof hadn’t really had anything to drink but he was laughing so hard and the grass was wet from the still falling rain. They managed to get the horse into the right stall and promptly stumbled back out the door when the stable care taker took over for them.

“Rei,” Karai laughed, “I can’t believe you never told me about that place. It was great! And that old married couple, they were hilarious!” Reiof shook his head and laughed at her while shutting the door behind them. They took one of the back entrances figuring a drunken princess wasn’t something to prance around for the court. When one of her feet caught an uneven block in the floor it sent them both tumbling. For a good five minutes after they simply sat laughing at themselves and everything else.

“Y’know Kai, I think we should hang out more. Maybe next time we’ll bring Miranai with us just for kicks.” Karai shook her head and rested it on his shoulder.

“No, I don’t think I’ll be able to do this again anytime soon. You know what Oron will be like. “All women should stay at home, you know that!” blah blah. The pig. I think if he didn’t have such a temper I would’ve bopped him by now…Oh, sorry, I forgot he’s your brother.” That seemed to snap Karai out of her giggle world as she tried to stand but Reiof pulled him back down.

“Y’know, just because he’s my brother doesn’t mean I don’t see his faults. Trust me, I was raised with him, I know they’re there. I’m..uh…sorry, by the way.”

“What on earth for, it’s not your fault!”

“No, but I still don’t like the way he treats you like crap.” At this she looked down, suddenly very interested in the jagged piece of tile they tripped over. She mumbled something about it not being a big deal and he rolled his eyes. Before really thinking he pulled her over for a hug. “It is too a big deal. Karai, don’t let him get to you, okay? Oron’s just…I don’t know, but he’s wrong, whatever else he may be. He’s my brother and I love him, but I don’t always have to like him. If you wanna rant about him to someone I’d be happy to listen, and I promise not to say anything to him, okay?”

At this point she’d been hugging him back with her head buried against his neck. When she pulled away to whisper thank you he was shocked to see tears in her eyes. He realized then that no one else had even tried to talk to her about it. They were all just pretending it wasn’t happening.
For a moment his mind just stopped working. He didn’t think, he just acted. He kissed her. He didn’t truly realize he was doing it until she kissed back, and by that point he’d stopped caring. Once they pulled away they just stared at each other for a moment. Then Karai’s eyes widened and her hand flew up to her mouth. She stood up in record time and leaned against the opposite wall in shock. “Karai, I’m sorry, I…”

“For what? It was just as much my fault. Gods…I have to go.” With that she ran up the stairs and into the castle. The only thing to be heard by the castle’s back door was the sound of a skull lightly hitting the stone walls over and over, with the occasional muttered insult.

Wiping the tears from her eyes Karai shut the door behind her. Her room was dark and quiet, the perfect place for her to sort this out. What was she thinking!? Before she could answer herself something solid hit her squarely in the jaw sending her to the floor. She gingerly touched her jaw and looked up just as he spoke to her. “Where the hell were you!?” Oh gods, he was drunk. Wait, what just happened? “Answer me!” She looked into his eyes and for once, she was truly, completely frightened of her husband. His dark brown eyes had always looked a little reddish, but there didn’t seem to be any brown now. His short brown hair was messy and he looked as though he had just staggered home from another bar. This time, though, it wasn’t just the normal insults. As his large hand reached down to grab her hair and pull she knew this night would be hell.

“Has anyone seen Karai this morning? I wanted to go riding with her.” Miranai looked across the table at her mother and brother, then to her father. Oron had gone missing in the early hours of the morning, yet again, but Karai was usually out and about by now. Yet, nobody seemed to know where she was. Miranai also noticed that Reiof seemed a little down this morning and wouldn’t meet her eyes whenever she mentioned Karai.

Now, Miranai wasn’t stupid, she knew the two liked each other. She was one of only two people who knew about the balcony encounter and she had already gotten Reiof to admit his feelings, but something didn’t fit here. Something happened and she wanted details now.

After breakfast was finished she waited for Reiof just outside the doors. The second the doors closed he started to answer the impending questions. “Yes something happened, yes it involved Karai, and yes, I did mess up beyond even my prestigious stupidity.” Miranai’s eyebrows shot up past her green and gold bangs. Her honey colored eyes locked with his and she said one word. Spill.

Miranai knocked solidly on Karai’s door three times. She waited for a response but got none. She tried the lock but it was locked. That was strange, very strange. “Reiof, hold on a sec. Do you have your skeleton key with you?” He scrunched his face in confusion but nodded and walked back over to her.

“Here you go. Why, is it locked? Even I didn’t think I’d messed up that bad.”

“I dunno, but here, I think the thing is broken. Either that or you need a new skeleton key, little brother. Did you hear that?” From inside they could hear a raspy cough and then a soft groan. Now they were really worried. Something was very wrong, and the broken lock didn’t sit well with them.

“Give me that. We’re getting in there. Karai, if you need to get covered, do it.” That was all the warning he gave before expertly twisting the key and door knob in the right way to quickly open it.

“Damn, Reiof, how often do you use….Karai!” The sight before them nearly knocked the wind from the siblings. Karai lie on the floor with several cuts and too many bruises to count. Her jaw was swollen, the back of her head was bleeding and her left arm was definitely not meant to bend to the angle it was at. They rushed to her side, immediately fearing the worst for her. Luckily they could see her weakly breathing and her pulse was still going. With silent understanding Miranai began to stop what bleeding she could and do a preliminary search for wounds while Reiof ran from the room for help faster than either thought possible.

“What the hell do you mean? She’s my wife, I can see her if I damn well want to!” Oron’s large frame stood bellowing at a guard in front of the doors to Kareena’s salon. The guard was starting to look nervous. After all, Oron was a prince…but did the princess out rank him because she was older? Or was he supposed to listen to Oron? Too much for his first day! They said this would be easy…

“Oron!” At the summon he whirled around, ready to ask for his brother’s help. Surely this was a mistake. “What the hell makes you think we’d let you near her after what you did? And where did you disappear to anyway?”

Oron’s rage was back in an instant. That little bitch ratted me out! “What do you mean? I didn’t do anything, and it’s none of your business where I went!” That was the last straw. Before Oron could get his next sentence out Reiof’s fist connected with his jaw. From there it nearly turned into a brawl. Oron was larger and heavier built, but Reiof was quicker with more training.

“Not so easy when they can hit back, is it!?” Reiof was subconsciously aware that his flaw had taken complete control. Foot in mouth syndrome seemed gone for now, but his automatic impulses to act on his strongest emotions were completely running his mind. He’d never been so mad in his life. Then again, he’d never thought of his brother as a total scum bag.

Before long guards had separated the two and were bodily restraining Oron while Reiof just glared. “What just happened here?” Reiof turned around but still couldn’t figure out if it had been his mother or sister to ask.

“I thought we agreed you would leave his punishment to me.”

Wiping the blood from his lip Reiof met his father’s eyes and replied in an even tone “If he hadn’t insisted on seeing her then denied the whole thing I’d have left it alone. I’d apologize, but I’m honestly not sorry. I’m not wrong about this.”

Miranai rushed over and took a brief look at the few injuries her youngest brother had. His lip would swell and one of his eyes would be an interesting color, but he’d be alright. She didn’t even spare a glance at Oron.

“Did Karai hear all of that?” Miranai’s quiet question surprised Reiof. He uttered a mumbled curse, realizing he hadn’t even thought of that. She was probably pretty upset right now.

“Oron, please go and wait in the library, I’ll be there in a moment,” said Daredon. Oron jerked himself away from the guards and stalked down the hallway with his temper barely contained.

Family, yeah right! They’re going to take that mouse’s word over his. So what if she’s telling the truth, that’s not the point! Oron finished saddling the horse and mounted it. The rain outside was no deterrent. He’d take his chances with the rain over those bums any day. As quickly as he could he galloped at full speed out of the city and into the surrounding mountains. The steep paths and dark forest were a sort of thrill for him that he wouldn’t trade for anything right now. He turned sharp corner after sharp corner, pushing the horse to its limits in the dark storm. Steam rose from the abused animal, its muscles straining and pulling to heave its rider higher into the evergreen covered mountain. He raced near yet another corner as lightning struck a tree twenty feet in front of him. The horse faltered and bucked, sending it and Oron tumbling into a nearly vertical ravine.

Karai sat in Kareena’s salon by herself. Everybody was somberly dressed in black today, having just returned from the funeral. Since that day she’d felt almost numb. She was suddenly so glad that she’d been accepted into this family as deeply as she had. Kareena insisted on being called Mom, Daredon had to be addressed by Papa or he would pointedly ignore her, and Miranai was simply understood to be her sister without the words being traded. Now if she could just get Reiof to stop blaming himself for her injuries and his brother’s death she’d have all the support she needed. She’d figured it out by now. She needed him and she wasn’t going to kid herself about it. Even during all of their awkward moments she’d always felt safe with him, and that was the feeling she needed.

“How’s your arm feeling?” Speak of the devil…
“Fine, thank you. Are your ribs feeling better yet, Rei?” She noticed the way he paused for a moment when he heard the nickname. The only night she’d ever called him that was the one when he’d kissed her and Oron had beaten her. He thought for sure she’d never use it again.

“Yeah, they’re only a problem if someone elbows me or I walk into walls, so it’s alright.” She giggled lightly then paused and stared at him for a moment.

“Are you going to be okay? I know it might not seem like much, but I’m here if you want to rant at me, or even just sit and have some company.”

“I’ll be alright. It’s just…” He stopped and stared for a moment before continuing. “You know Dad has paternal right over you now, right?” With her nod of understanding he sat down beside her on the orangey couch. “Well…we were all kinda wondering if you wanted to go back home. Maybe court someone there or something.” She couldn’t possibly be hearing him right, could she?

“Do…Is that what you all want? For me to go back?”

“No! No, Karai, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, we’re all worried about you, you know that. You haven’t been your old self.” She raised her eyebrows at him in confusion.
“How could I be? I was always medicated to stop infections and pain, hell, I’ve barely been lucid. But, you know what will help me? Staying here. My family back home will just pity-party all over me and feel guilty. That’s not what I need, and I won’t impose that on them either way. You, Miranai, Mom, Papa, you guys are my family and my home just as much as the place I grew up. The sooner you learn that the easier things will get.” She ended with a note of teasing in her voice, implying that it was meant to lighten the mood. She also tapped him lightly on the nose with a giggle. “So. Are you really going to tell me what’s bothering you now?”

He looked back at her with shock written clearly on his face. Every time they spoke she amazed him. Then he laughed a bitter laugh that dropped her smile in an instant. He leaned forward to put his elbows on his knees and intertwine his fingers. His head was down with some of his dark hair hiding his eyes from view. “You really wanna know? You might hate me.” When his only response was a delicate hand on his shoulder he continued. “I think I’m a lousy person. It’s one thing to think your brother’s fiancé is attractive when you don’t know it’s her, but another thing entirely to kiss her after they get married. And to make matters worse, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But that’s not why I feel like a jerk. I feel like a jerk because he hasn’t even been dead three months yet and already I’m wondering if you and the family would kill me for wanting to court you properly.”

He turned his head just enough to make eye contact with Karai from the corner of his eye. She held is gaze quietly for a moment before breaking it to rest her head on his shoulder. ”You know, you scared me back there, about wondering if I wanted to leave. I was worried you considered me damaged goods, that the attraction was gone.” Reiof’s head whipped around so fast it nearly hurt.

“You what!?” Karai held her hand up to silence him.

“If you were completely honest I felt I had to be too. That’s honestly what I was afraid of. But now I know it’s not. I know at least one person in your family who wouldn’t object. Miranai would love it. I don’t think your mother would oppose either, especially where she knows us the way she does. And all I think your father would do is ask us to wait awhile before announcing it officially, for obvious reasons.”

“So…wait. You aren’t mad at me? Wait…you would want to?”

Karai laughed warmly and Reiof recognized the humor in her eyes immediately. “Rei, don’t make me splash you again to get my point across. So are you going to officially ask me at some point, or should I just go nag sis until she makes you?”

That’s when they heard it. A soft snickering that was clearly not coming from them. Reiof’s eye began to twitch as he quickly stood up, walked to the door and opened it. His parents and sister fell in a heap on the floor with a heavy ‘oomph!’

“Ahem. As I was just saying, you two, it’s very bad to eavesdrop.” Daredon’s act was fooling nobody and Karai just laughed harder.

“Well, if got caught anyway, are you gonna answer her, little brother? Because even if she doesn’t ask me to, I’ll bug you to do it.”

“I guess it’s safe to say you all approve, yes?”

“Personally,” Daredon smirked, “I would’ve paired you two together to begin with. And she’s right. Wait a few months for the announcement. Now hurry up and ask the girl.” Just as Reiof opened his mouth to formally ask her his little cousin ran into the room.

“PIG PILE! Who are we asking? What are we asking? Hi Rei-Rei! Pick me up? Pretty pretty please!” He rolled his eyes and slapped a hand to his forehead as the others laughed.
“I get it Rei. Consider me asked.” Then she laughed as a bird flew into the open window. “Never a dull moment here, is there?”